Major League Baseball will once again use its minor leagues to test out experimental rule changes with a full season expected to be played this summer, the league announced Thursday.
Many of the changes are being tested in hopes of decreasing player injuries, improving the pace of play and putting more balls in play with various experiments taking place in specific leagues.
At the Triple-A level, MLB will be implementing larger bases while Double-A leagues will require a minimum of four players on the infield—hampering teams' ability to shift defensively. Here's a full rundown of what each league will implement for the 2021 season:
"The game on the field is constantly evolving, and MLB must be thoughtful and intentional about progressing toward the very best version of baseball," league consultant Theo Epstein said in a statement announcing the changes. "A version that it is true to its essence and has enough consistent action and athleticism on display to entertain fans of all ages."
Baseball has long looked for ways to improve the sport, most notably implementing pitch clocks, and was able to use the pandemic-shortened 2020 season to test out innovative solutions to keep the pace of play moving along.
Extra innings began with a runner on second base last year while a universal designated hitter was implemented along with seven-inning doubleheaders. Major League Baseball and the players association agreed to keep both the extra innings and doubleheader changes in effect for the 2021 season.
It's unclear what steps MLB will take with regards to further rule changes after the 2021 season, but the ability to gather data from experimental play in the minor leagues comes ahead of the collective bargaining agreement's expiration in December.
What follows is expected to be one of the more contentious bargaining sessions in league history since the 1994-95 players' strike.
It appears MLB will be armed not only with new ideas for improving the product on the field, but the data to back them up.
The changes to the minor leagues in 2021, however, shine a light on where MLB executives feel the game can immediately improve. Defensive shifts and time between pitches, appear to be the most emphasized points this season.
Not only will fans get a chance to scout the next generation of MLB stars in the minors this year, they'll get a preview of what baseball could look like in the near future.